Remarks, Bushfire Relief & Recovery Efforts Charity Roundtable - Australian Parliament House, ACT

16 Jan 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks so much for coming together. We appreciate it very, very much. The media is only going to be with us for a short period of time and we’ve got a lot to get through. I really want to thank all of you for coming together in this way, and I also extend kind greetings from particularly Premiers Andrews and Berejiklian, whom I had a good discussion with yesterday. And there were some issues they raised to comment to you today as well particularly about how we align things, and things along those natures.

First of all, can I just say this, thank you. $200 million dollars, or thereabouts has already come out of the generosity of the hearts of Australians over these recent months. And you know better than anyone how generous Australians are. Because they are the people who support you and the amazing work that you do every day. And in times like this, when people are hurting, when people are tired, when people have had great fear and they’re trying to get their lives back together and focus on their future for their kids, for their families, for their communities, they always turn to you in the same way as they always turn to governments at these times. And so us coming together today to align what we're doing, to ensure we’re planning well together, to ensure it’s well integrated, is incredibly important in as how we respond to that regular call on us all in times like this.

So I want to thank you first of all, for the amazing work you already have been doing and in advance for the work that I know that you’ll continue to do. Secondly, I think all of us right now know what the priorities are. And that is to focus on what people need right now and to get to them as quickly as we can. We've been doing that and we need to do more of that. In different parts of the country, as you move around, where fires burnt more early in the season in places like Queensland and indeed in the months ahead where, we hope not, but there are risks in other parts of Victoria and New South Wales, even other parts of South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania. These risks will present and a response effort will be required. But in many parts of the country, also, people want to move to recovery as quickly as possible. And so meeting those needs right now, but also helping people get to a place, a new platform where they can look to the recovery, where they can look to the rebuilding, where they can look and fill up that glass of hope which I’ve talked about with others, I think is a key thing that we're trying to do.

Now, as you know, the Commonwealth working together with states, has been active for a long time, particularly with the Australian Defence Force, but through many agencies, with Services Australia, the Department of Social Services and others and so on. We’ve provided a lot of help and support. But most recently over the last few weeks that has stepped up into a whole new level. The first ever compulsory call out of the reserves we’ve ever had in this country in response to national disaster of this nature. But also the establishment of the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, and the National Bushfire Recovery Fund, $2 billion dollars which I can tell you, having just walked out of our recent extended National Security Committee meeting, we've already committed well over half of that half a billion dollars that was scheduled in this first period, from the initiatives we've announced in just the last week. And we’ve made more commitments this morning. That fund is there to provide additional support. It is not intended to replace or displace existing efforts whether by states or charitable sector or anyone. It's meant there to add to, to supplement, to amplify and enliven what is already going to happen and including the additional efforts that you see. We also want that recovery to be locally led. The National Bushfire Recovery Agency has already addressed priority areas and payments. It has addressed areas in everything from wildlife support, to mental health support, the charitable sector. We are continuing to work on infrastructure proposals now, tourism, the small business sector, the agricultural sector and we’ve been dealing with those immediate priorities. And we will be moving on to the next phase soon, which is all about the locally-led recovery and the response plans that will be developed on the ground and we will work with you and them in those places.

So today for me, it really- and my team, who are all here with me today. It's of course about listening, how you’re seeing this on the ground and what you’re hearing. It's about aligning what we are doing so as not to displace, particularly as supply chains in these communities start to re-establish. I mean, today you can now get in to Mallacoota with some assistance, fuel is being delivered into that town and normal supply chains are starting to be established with restocking the stores and grocery stores, and shops and things of that nature and the last thing we want to do is slow down or in any way hinder that effort with the local economies getting back on their feet. And hence why our initiatives and support has been encouraging that cash assistance, which is the best way to help people in communities ensure that those resources are spent in local communities because it helps them get back on their feet. So vouchers and things of that nature. We also want to understand what the obstacles are in ensuring that we can get the support where it needs, but most importantly it is about aligning our efforts. Australians have been amazingly generous and they are looking to all of us to make sure that their generosity is getting to where they wanted it to get to. And they have, I think, very reasonable questions about how that's being delivered and we all have an accountability to make sure that that is delivered in that way.

So I look forward to the discussions we are going to have today. I want to thank you very, very much for coming together in the spirit in which you have. And I want to thank you most of all for the amazing work you've already done in that leadership you’ve provided.

Thank you very much.